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AirPods 3 vs AirPods Pro: What’s the difference?

Apple has announced the AirPods 3 with an all-new look that’s very similar to the more premium AirPods Pro.

There’s certainly a heavy AirPods Pro influence, and we’re hoping that translates into a better performance from the standard AirPod range.

So, if you’re looking to upgrade your AirPod, which one should you go for out of the AirPods 3 vs AirPods Pro? We take an opening look.

Price and availability

The new AirPods have a price of $179 / £169 / €199 / CA$239 / AU$279 and come in just one variant, the wireless charging case model.

The Pro version aren’t as expensive as they were when first launched, and in the UK at least, you can find them for £10 cheaper on Apple’s website. The price is £239 / $249 / €279 / CA$329 / AU$399, but look around and you’ll find them closer to £200.

That gives the new AirPods the victory in terms of pricing, but you are missing on at least one notable feature. And if you buy the AirPods 3, you get six months of Apple Music for free, too.

What’s the difference in the design?

The new AirPods model have undergone a redesign, and the result is they look similar to the AirPods Pro.

Clearly imitation is the sincerest form of flattery here, but it makes sense for Apple to go down this route, transferring the shorter stem (hopefully better comfort) and contoured design (for sending audio to the ear) for what looks like a better fitting earbud.

AitPods 3 and case

There doesn’t appear to be ear-tips for the new AirPods, so it remains a one-size fits all earbud, while the AirPods Pro offer a number of silicone ear-tips to find the best fit. Our initial feeling is this gives the advantage to the Pro.

We also perceive that with an ear-tip included, passive noise isolation (that’s the blocking of external sounds through the earbud’s physical design) would be more effective as you have a better chance of creating a solid seal.

Potential issues might come with the shorter stem. While it’ll make the earbuds more comfortable, the force sensor, the same as the one on the Pro, could be more fiddly to operate. We certainly had that issue when we tested the Pro model.

AirPods Pro on iPhone

Both have IPX4 water and sweat resistance but only the AirPods 3rd gen model has water resistance for the case. That essentially means the Pro model’s case may be damaged if exposed to water. The charging case for the AirPods 3 also matches the look of the AirPods Pro.

When it comes to finishes, both come in white, with the Pro looking the more glossy of the two. This is still a rather disappointing development in light of how easy it is for the finish to attract dirt.

This is tighter than we’d expect, but the AirPods Pro would edge it thanks to the ear-tips. Unless, however, you’re someone who doesn’t like the feel of earphones burying into the ear, in which case the AirPods 3 are the better choice.

What’s the difference in the feature set?

Battery life for the new AirPods is the best of the entire range, with six hours per charge and 30 hours in total, beating the AirPods Pro’s five and 24 hours.

That’s a healthy jump, and means you won’t be recharging the 3rd gen earbuds as much as the previous generations. You also get wireless charging, fast-charging and MagSafe functionality. The AirPods Pro matches all of those features, with the announcement that it’ll also be sold with a MagSafe compatible case going forward.

AirPods 3 features

When it comes to blocking out sound, the AirPods Pro features noise cancellation, which we found to be very good when we tested it. Some may find it annoying that the affordable Beats Studio Buds also have ANC, but we suppose that given its Pro moniker, only the top model in the AirPods range get noise cancellation.

In other areas they’re on equal footing. Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos with head tracking is on both models via Apple Music or Apple TV. Each one is Bluetooth 5.0 compatible, while we’re Auto-pause (with new skin detecting sensor), Auto-sharing and Auto-switching are present on the latest AirPod. The Pro doesn’t get have the skin sensor.

AirPods Pro with case

The 3rd gen AirPod and Pro are much alike in terms of features, the former offering more endurance while the latter offers noise cancellation. We’d give the win to the Pro for its noise cancellation/transparency mode, but judging on the specs, the new AirPod is plenty capable enough, especially for heavy iOS users.

Is there any difference in the sound?

Without a review sample in our hands and ears (yet), we can’t offer an opinion. But it does look as if improvements have been made to the ‘standard’ AirPods.

AirPods 3 sound quality

Apple claims its custom low distortion driver and high dynamic range amplifier for the AirPods 3 can deliver clear high frequency notes and powerful bass. These were aspects we felt were overlooked with the previous models, so any improvement here would help in making the AirPods 3 a more suitable partner for your music.

Call quality is also said to have improved on the 3rd gen AirPods with the new AAC-ELD codec for clearer, natural call quality.

Both models have Adaptive EQ feature to tweak and adjust the sound based on your ear size and quality of the seal. We suspect the Pro model may produce a better sound in light of the fact that it has ear-tips, but we’ll have to wait and see.

airpods pro

As we noted in our review of the AirPods Pro, Max Parker said: “while I wouldn’t go as far as saying these are the best earbuds in this category, they’re not to be dismissed and produce a sound that’s excellent across many different genres of music along with podcasts and audiobooks. They also sound a lot better than AirPods.”

There’s a big gap between the current performance of the AirPods and AirPods Pro, but there are inklings the AirPods 3 could bridge with a more decisive performance. We’ll find out for sure in the coming weeks.

Early verdict

The AirPods 3 come across as a cheaper AirPods Pro in many ways, from its design to its features, there’s much in common.

You have more battery life on the newer model, but you get noise cancellation with the Pro version. With the overall feature set similar, it’ll likely come down to whether you want ANC or can live without it.

We’ll be getting a sample of the new AirPods soon, so keep an eye out on Trusted Reviews for opinion on the Apple AirPods 3.

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